Olympic lessons make Mikaela Shiffrin feel at ease ahead of world champs
The Associated Press
A year after the Pyeongchang Olympics, Mikaela Shiffrin is set for another multi-medal chase.
And there are some more records on the table, too.
The Feb. 5 to 17 skiing world championships in Are, Sweden, will see Shiffrin return to the resort where she celebrated her first World Cup win in 2012, triumphing in slalom when she was only 17.
It’s the same venue, however, where the Eagle-Vail native suffered her only major injury three years later, hurting her right knee in warmups for a giant slalom.
“I have had incredible moments there and also really heartbreaking moments,” the two-time overall World Cup champion told The Associated Press. “All together, Are is a really special place. It has a lot of emotion for me.”
Over the next two weeks, the resort in central Sweden’s Jamtland province might become even more special to her.
In the Feb. 16 slalom, the last women’s race, Shiffrin can become the first skier, male or female, to win gold in the same event at four consecutive world championships. That’s not an unlikely scenario in a season where she has raised her career total of World Cup slalom wins to 37, breaking the record set by her childhood idol, Marlies Raich of Austria.
“The biggest thing that the records mean for me is that when I was a little girl, I was dreaming of being the best skier in the world,” Shiffrin said. “And those records are just validation that I am living my dream. So that’s the most I can realize out of them. Otherwise it’s just numbers on papers at the end of the day.”
Should everything go according to plan, Shiffrin has a chance at becoming the most decorated American woman at major championships. To do so, she would have to make the podium in the slalom, her signature event, along with the three other events she is expected to enter — the super-G, the alpine combined and the giant slalom.
Her current haul of seven medals, including Olympic gold in slalom (2014) and GS (2018), leaves her three short of Lindsey Vonn’s best mark, and four short of Bode Miller’s overall American record of 11.
Regardless if Vonn can start at the worlds in her injury-marred last season, Shiffrin doesn’t feel like she is now taking over as the torch carrier of U.S. ski racing.
“Lindsey was definitely the biggest star in U.S. ski racing for a while and for sure I am doing, I don’t know, big things right now,” Shiffrin said. “I don’t feel like I am going to be holding more of the torch than I was this year or last year or the year before. I started kind of coming into my own successes well before Lindsey was ready to retire so it doesn’t feel so much like passing the torch.”
Shiffrin knows too well that success at major championships can’t be planned, even for an athlete as dominating as her.
A year ago, she was touted a possible gold medalist in all five Olympic events, but the grueling World Cup schedule unsettled her in the weeks before. And when bad weather forced a rescheduling of races, Shiffrin ended up competing in only three events. While she won the GS and took silver in the combined event, she missed out on a medal in her strongest discipline.
“It’s always a learning experience at the Olympics,” she said. “The most important thing is just that there are some things that are out of your control, some things you cannot predict and cannot prepare for. Then it’s best to just let it go.”
This time, Shiffrin scaled down her schedule in recent weeks to recharge. She didn’t enter speed events in St. Anton, Austria, and Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, while skipping two downhills she initially planned to race in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
Also at the worlds, races will be picked carefully by her team, consisting of coaches Mike Day, Jeff Lackie and her mother, Eileen Shiffrin. While GS and slalom in the second week are certainties, the super-G — an event Shiffrin has started winning this season — and the alpine combined remain tentative at this point.
“It’s going to be a decision we make last-minute,” said Shiffrin, who is set to race in Maribor, Slovenia, Friday and Saturday. “It also depends on how the races are going just before the world championships. And it also depends on how the energy is. To get the best chance at winning medals, I have to make sure I am strong in my best disciplines.”
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